Flashback #Star50: More than just the queen of burlesque

In the spotlight: The many news articles featuring Chan.In the spotlight: The many news articles featuring Chan.

BORN Chan Wai Chang in Soochow, China, she ruled the stage here with her daring performances in the roaring 1950s. And in the later years of her life, she became known as a charity queen for her philanthropic work.

That’s Rose Chan, the dancer whose exotic acts of wrestling with a python thrilled audiences everywhere from then New World Park in Swatow Lane, Penang, to the Bukit Bintang amusement park in Kuala Lumpur.

She died of cancer in 1987 at the age of 62.

Just months before her death, she gave an interview to The Star from her hospital bed in Penang.

 “She was very motherly. And she was very open about what she was going through,” recalled former newshound Tommy Lee, who had visited her often before his interview with her. He would bring her copies of The Star and fruits.

Besides confiding in him about her family problems, Chan even showed him the cuts and scars.

Her hospital room, said Lee, was filled with flowers.

(Lee wrote in his article back then that “entering her room was like walking into a rose farm. There were bouquets of roses of various colours sent by her admirers.”)

“I can’t recall how I first got wind of her condition. But we had met up and somehow, she trusted me,” Lee said.

Chan shared about her stage experience, describing how she would often see “a sea of white hair” among the audience, in reference to the elderly men who came to her shows.

Lee said that Chan seemed quite lonely in her dying days.

“I felt very sad when she passed away,” he said.

According to past reports, Chan’s fame came quite unexpectedly. She was a cabaret performer when a “wardrobe malfunction” happened during a dance show when her bra strap snapped.

The audience went wild and it launched a new career for Chan, who was then 27 years old.

Another former journalist, the late AR Amiruddin, wrote in his column in January 2017 that Chan was a tough woman.

He recalled a conversation that he had with Chan decades earlier.

Apparently, four extortioners came up to her when she was at a coffee shop, thinking that she would be an easy target.

“When they tried to manhandle me, I gave them a flying kick and sent them packing. Years of striptease had given me some talent at kicking,” Chan told Amiruddin.

As it turned out, Chan had picked up some martial arts techniques during her years of wrestling with a python in her stage acts. She had also studied judo.

A biography of her was published in 2013 by poet and lawyer Cecil Rajendra titled No Bed of Roses: The Rose Chan Story.

He was her lawyer till her death. The book centred on Chan’s impoverished days in China and her life in Malaysia, as well as her five marriages.

It also touched on the other side of Chan, her generosity and philanthropy.

Rajendra wrote in his preface that Chan had been “part of my schoolboy fantasies for decades” but he never got to see any of her shows.

He got to know Chan through a housing developer; Rajendra’s office was handling the legal work of his building projects.

“The truth is that though tens of thousands had seen Rose’s show and thousands more had read or knew her public persona, only a select few were allowed to peek into her off-stage private life,” he wrote.

Curious to see more features like this? Visit Starchive on our anniversary website to discover more stories through the decades.

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